County officials will be checking up on retailers

They will make sure stores, malls are in compliance

MICHAEL VICTORINO – Wants aggressive testing

Maui County Mayor Micheal Victorino said Friday that he will send a team to check on retailers and shopping centers Wednesday to ensure that they are complying with capacity limits, sanitation standards and social distancing guidelines as the economy begins to slowly reopen.

Although there are no new positive cases of COVID-19 statewide as of Friday, Victorino said he is remaining vigilant and will continue the “aggressive mode of testing.”

“It’s our hope and prayer that we keep it on the same track, that we keep it at zero . . . and we can continue our reopening of Maui County and our entire state of Hawaii,” Victorino said in a media update. “There will be county employees, probably many from my office, the Office of Mayor, and some other departments to help us really make sure we do it right, and we do it as seamless as possible.”

The mayor has allowed the reopening Monday of retail stores and services, businesses within shopping malls, car dealerships and real estate companies by appointment only (which were previously open for critical situations only), and photo studios and photography.

Friday was the first day since March 12 that the state Department of Health had no new cases to report. Testing at the State Laboratories Division began Feb. 28.

This does not mean that the state is in the clear, Victorino said. There’s a potential relapse of COVID-19 during the flu and cold season in September and October.

“I am a proponent of aggressive testing, we need to continue testing all of our segments of our populations, and areas like our first responders, our nurses, our doctors, our first line of heroes that take care of us,” Victorino said. “The numbers do indicate that we are doing really well, . . . We’re going to continue on our aggressive mode of testing for our people in Maui County.”

In the event an outbreak occurs during the first phase of reopening the economy, Victorino said that the county can pull back if necessary.

“We have seen a steady decline in new cases over the past several weeks, although today we’re at zero. We want to maintain these declines,” state Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said in a news release. “As businesses reopen, as people become more active and travel more freely, we will inevitably see an increase in cases.”

More than 34,000 people have been tested statewide for COVID-19 and 629 tests have come back positive since late February. A total of 566 people have been released from isolation; 93 of 114 individuals have been released on Maui.

A study by the Harvard University Global Health Institute shows Hawaii ranked among the top nationwide in COVID-19 testing metrics. Only nine states have exceeded testing minimums, according to the study, and are mostly lower population states like Alaska and Hawaii.

The model suggests that Hawaii’s first pandemic wave of COVID-19 is “mild” relative to the state’s population. Hawaii is averaging 797 tests each day, more than the estimated minimum tests recommended by May 15, according to a news release.

In the positive test ratio category, only 0.3 percent of tests in the state have come back positive. Montana is ranked the best with a positive test ratio of 0.1 percent.

The institute published a state-by-state simulation that estimates the amount of coronavirus testing that will be needed by May 15. The simulation started from a model of future case counts and then calculated how much testing would be needed for a state to test all infected people and any close contacts they may have exposed to the virus.

“It’s encouraging to hear that Hawaii is leading many states in our testing for COVID-19,” said Gov. David Ige in a news release Friday. “So far, our preventive actions have kept our number of positive cases and deaths low, and we must all continue to be vigilant to maintain our control of the disease. We can’t become complacent and risk undermining our success.”

Resuming travel “continues to pose a risk for the spread and reintroduction of the coronavirus,” Park said, especially if residents travel to the Mainland to COVID-19 hot spots or if visitors are coming from high-risk areas.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported that 756 passengers arrived in Hawaii but only on Oahu and Kona on Thursday — 239 visitors and 214 residents. No flights came to Maui.

“This risk is not just posed by visitors,” she added. “Residents can actually pose a greater risk by unknowingly infecting others.”

Even when people travel for essential reasons, such as work, health care or important family events, they can “inadvertently bring the infection home,” she said. Visitors and residents are required to observe the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine after traveling to protect the community.

The DOH said in the news release that a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases is dependent on how much the community follows the health and safety orders, especially when businesses begin to reopen, as they are Monday on Maui.

“COVID-19 is not gone ladies and gentlemen,” Victorino said. “It may have taken a hiatus, but wearing our masks, good hygiene, proper social distancing, all of these aspects and all of these means that we’ve taught you, will help keep the curve flat instead of us taking a big spike.”

In other updates:

• Micro-businesses in need of assistance with 10 employees or less and an annual sales revenue of $750,000 or less still can apply for funds through the Micro Business Loan Program online at mauichamber.com. For more information, call 244-0081. Nearly $900,000 of the $1 million fund have been allocated so far.

• The Kamaaina First Program is seeking business partners. Those interested in offering deals can upload information at kamaainafirst.com. The program, which plans to launch June 1, gives local residents an opportunity to take advantage of deals on food, services and products while supporting local businesses impacted by COVID-19 in Maui County.

• On Thursday, the U.S. commerce secretary announced the allocation of $300 million in fisheries assistance funding provided by the CARES Act. This funding is earmarked to states, tribes and territories with coastal and marine fisheries that have been negatively affected by COVID-19. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources is currently in the process of developing a spending plan. If approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the program will allow fishery participants to apply for financial relief from the state’s $4.3 million portion.

• The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations announced Friday that it distributed $140,300,082 in unemployment insurance benefits over the past week with $83,776,600 of that total representing the $600 bonus made available by the CARES Act.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)